Developers can now compile native C and C++ code to run in Chrome across different hardware architectures.
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As part of its ongoing effort to make web apps perform as well as native apps, Google released Portable Native Client (PNaCl), a software framework that allows developers to compile native C and C++ code so that it can be embedded in and run from any website.
Native code can take advantage of CPUs and GPUs in a way that web applications still cannot to enable computationally demanding applications involving sophisticated graphics.
Portable Native Client, released Tuesday, differs from Google's Native Client (NaCl) technology in that it creates architecture-independent output. Where native code compiled with NaCl emerges tuned for a specific instruction set, like x86, ARM, or MIPS, programs compiled with PNaCl will run on any hardware platform. In other words, they work on mobile and desktop devices.
PNaCl compiles native code into an intermediate form. The resulting LLVM-bytecode then gets wrapped in a portable executable file that can be served from a website. "When the site is accessed, Chrome fetches and translates the portable executable into an architecture-specific machine code optimized directly for the underlying device," Google engineer David Sehr wrote in a blog post.
In the near term, PNaCl makes ChromeOS more competitive with OS X and Windows as computing environments suited to computationally demanding applications. Whether Google's technology will benefit the web in the years to come remains to be seen.
As for Apple and Microsoft, its hard to see either company going out of its way to help hasten adoption of Google's technology. If Google can encourage enough developers to create compelling PNaCl applications that draw consumers in droves, perhaps Apple and Microsoft will be forced to adapt. But don't hold your breath; it could take a while.
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